Kashmiri carpets are world-famous, and are considered to be among the best in the world.
Carpets have been around for almost 1,500 years, but it is not know when, where or by whom the first carpet was made. Carpet weaving in India began in the late 15th century when King Badshah brought highly skilled artisans from Persia through the silk trade route. Although the locals already knew how to spin and weave, the King urged them to learn the Persian techniques. He also established factories called Karkhanas which flourished in the Kashmir Valley.
Unfortunately, after King Badshah died, the industry suffered a huge setback. It was only revived later by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. The saint Akhun Mulla Rahnuma, working in tandem with the Governor of Kashmir, revived the industry in the early 17th Century. The industry again went into decline during the period of the Afghan and Sikh rule. The mid-18th century saw an upsurge in growth, with the quality and quantity of the carpets improving by leaps and bounds.
Kashmiri carpets captured the imagination of the Western world during the mid-18th century, when theywere displayed at the Crystal Palace exhibition in London. Kashmiri carpets began to be made to cater to the needs of the Western hemisphere. The global recession in 1902 caused another decline in Kashmir the carpet industry. The industry went through difficulty during the Partition of India too , with weavers being unable to produce carpets as a result of financial difficulties.
In 1950, independent India became stable once again, and the government of Jammu and Kashmir decided to restore the carpet industry. Tourism increased, and demand soared for these works of art. Training programs were set up in the rural parts of Kashmir for both men and women, and quality control programmes were introduced. These steps have contributed positively to the development of the industry.
These days, the biggest challenge faced by the Kashmiri carpet industry is the large increase in the number of fake carpets that are being produced. These are passed on as the authentic article to unsuspecting customers at much lower prices. Their poor quality brings disrepute to the entire industry.
Kashmiri carpets are works of art. They are typically made of pure silk, unlike lower-quality carpets which are made of blends of wool, rayon and silk. The Knot Density of the carpets is typically 600-900, assuring very high quality and durability. A good quality and intricate carpet can take a skilled waver as long as 8 to 10 months to complete. Often, the entire family sits around a handloom through the day, working with focus and dedication, weaving magic with their fingers to craft the poetry of the finished Kashmir carpet. The enchanting designs are often worked from memory, and reflect the tradition and culture of the particular area.
The art of weaving carpets is handed down the generations in Kashmir. It is labour-intensive and intricate through the various stages – the cultivation of silk, treating and dyeing it, determining the pattern weaving and finishing. The person who designs the carpet is called Nakaash, a Kalimba is the weaver and the Ranger is person who dyes the carpet in the traditional Kashmiri technique. A colour-coded chart called the Talim indicates the KPSI which are required for each combination of pattern and colour scheme. The Master Weaver reads out the Talim for each carpet at the start of the day and the assistants execute on that basis in their work. The Weaver chants the Talim as he winds the warp around the loom.
After the carpet has been woven on the loom, it is rolled off. Washing the carpet adds shine and glimmer to it. The carpet is then dried in the sun and clipped. Skilled artisans handle the finishing stage, polishing the pile with their hands and feet to impart radiance to the carpet.